Sam Pearce: how to survive working from home

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The word ‘unprecedented’ has lost all meaning over the last few weeks. As we find ourselves cooped up in our houses, the buzz and joy of agency life (for example) has been replaced by the uncertainty of a Zoom connection.

Yet the work goes on. And for an industry that relies on the energy and creativity that comes from the people working together, remote working can be a challenge.

It also presents us with an opportunity. It gives us a chance to look deeply at the way we work, and find better alternatives. It’s fair to say that the industry has picked up some bad habits in recent years. The challenges presented to us by remote working will force us to confront the worst; our tendency to focus on what doesn’t matter, our obsession with looking busy, and our ability to forget that people are what really matter.

With a little effort, we can use the time we are forced apart to come closer together, with healthier ways of working. When we go back to the buzz of work, it doesn’t mean we have to go back to all of the stress.

Based on a mix of the coaching I deliver and several year’s experience of working at home, here are the ways you can stay sane and effective when working remotely:

Trust your team

The number one reason working from home is difficult is due to a lack of trust. Those in teams with low trust who work from home often report much higher stress levels. Whilst we can’t see our team and everything they are doing, we can choose to believe they want the same as us: for ourselves and our companies to be successful. Choose to trust and believe the best in others. It’s how we’ll get through this.

Focus on what’s important

Ask yourself what really matters. It might be your creativity, your strategic mind, your ability to learn or your emotional intelligence. Focus on how you can be most useful, and filter out what doesn’t really matter. For most jobs, being constantly available isn’t what really brings value. Remind yourself that there is much, much more to work than sending and receiving emails.

Communicate well, not more

Answering emails within minutes might prove someone is ‘working’ but it doesn’t mean they’re working well. In fact, it’s probably getting in the way of them doing something more useful.

Block out 2 x half hour blocks each day where everyone makes themselves available for emails and messages. This way you know when to expect a response, and when you can chat together, without worrying all through the day that you’ve missed something important.

Schedule regular catch-ups with your teams using video conferencing or over the phone so you can check in and support each other. Talk the important stuff through face to face.

Set Boundaries

Have a routine – know when you’ll get up, when you’ll be at your desk, and when you’ll be finished for the day. Think about where you’ll work, and in what way. The sofa might feel comfy, but might ruin your TV time this evening.

Plan Your Day Mindfully

At the start of each day, make a plan for the day; be clear on what you are going to be doing.

Plan out your day from 9-5 (or your equivalent) in 30-60 minute blocks. When you have a load of small tasks to do, schedule that time with one big ‘Task’ block. If you deviate from the plan, replan. It’s not about being strict, but bringing mindfulness to how you’re spending your time.

Enjoy the benefits

No commute, well stocked fridge, friends and family; working from home isn’t all bad, and we shouldn’t pretend it is. We don’t need to suffer to do good work. Make sure to enjoy the good bits to help you stay refreshed and motivated. Finally take your lunch break!

And most importantly..

Be loving and kind

We’re all going through something completely new, and we’ll all be finding our own ways to navigate it. We’re much stronger together. Take time to be kind to yourself and to others. We’ll need a lot of love. Check in on and look after those around you. We need it more than ever.

We may all be forced apart, but we can become closer through the experience. Remember why we do this: the people, the creativity and the energy. Those are what really matter, wherever we are.

Sam Pearce is an ex-account director and the founder of Train of Thought, which offers coaching, training and consultancy. He is delivering remote coaching and sessions during the isolation period.

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